So, about self-care and honoring one's limits...
What a necessary and seemingly simple concept that in reality is so difficult for many Autistics, myself included, to actually do. We preach balance but sometimes (perhaps often) are guilty of not practicing it. This tendency puts us at risk for burnout, breakdown, or other emotional and/or physical crises. If we won't take a break, if we won't allow ourselves the needed time to be still and heal, then eventually the body and the mind will seize for itself the time we won't give up - and not necessarily in a favorable way. So difficult as it is, we must engage in the "radical act" (per Audre Lord) of self-care. All people need it, but I believe Autistics in particular need to be reminded of this, especially activists and/or Autistic parents. And we should partake in it without feeling weak or guilty or deficient.
So here, in no particular order, are some of the ways I try to practice self-care:
I relish the small ways that I have learned to try to take better care of myself. I might take a break by riding in the car in silence to clear my head or blasting music I like when I'm headed somewhere rather than using that time to return phone calls or check up on things. I leave social events early or skip them altogether if it's too much for me. We have replaced all of the light bulbs in my home with the type that imitate sunlight rather than subjecting myself to harsh fluorescent lights that drain me.
I shower in the semi-dark with super hot water and take my time in there (I used to feel guilty because I know our planet has a water shortage, but I know giving myself a little more time in the water is therapeutic for me and that I support water conservation in many other ways, so I don't guilt myself anymore). When I go to a restaurant if I want dessert first or with my meal, I order it rather than feeling sheepish about it.
I often text, email, and message people rather than speaking or meeting up with them (unless I'm up for it). I grocery shop late at night when it's quieter and less crowded. I take "staycations" when needed to regroup. I stand up for myself instead of being the "nice girl" AKA doormat that I was in ages past. I pray and draw strength and peace from my Christian faith. I read any book I please - a deep complex text one moment, a young adult fiction novel the next. I write - and write - and write.
A few months ago, I came to terms with my severe dislike for listening and responding to voicemail. I hate listening to voicemail with a passion and they can pile up for months. And then I become anxious about missing something important and/or being perceived as rude for not checking and replying to them. I finally decided that as a woman in my 30's I shouldn't have to make any more apologies for not getting a message. I called the phone company and had them completely remove the voicemail option from my phone altogether. Now no one can leave me a message. People may think it's weird, but I don't care. It works for me, it doesn't hurt others, and it's healthy for me. Even if it is unconventional or a little inconvenient for others, it is right for me, and therefore I will continue.
And essentially, that's how I see self-care. It's the little things and the big things that help us to be a better person and help make the hard things we do more bearable. It's my son's kisses raining upon my face. My daughter's melodious laughter. Qualify time with my teen sons and daughter. My husband's knowing glance followed by his smile. Playing scripts again and again through my mind for comfort. Running my tongue in the same pattern across my gums and teeth in a relaxing stim. Being my authentic self. Me - without regret, without shame, without apology. That's self-care.